Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards 2008
Go home. Watch reruns. Go to some “hot” club and look pretty. Go to work. Go to sleep. Go out to a fancy dinner. Go to the movies. Read the gossip rags. Whatever you do, remain in the dark. Don’t try anything new. Don’t talk to your neighbors. Don’t go anyplace else. Basically, don’t do a damn thing that requires any real effort, because, as we all know, you work hard, and any free time spent outside your comfort zone is time wasted. Never mind broadened horizons. Never mind becoming more civil and less barbaric. Never mind living in the moment rather than constantly moving on to the next thing. Never mind life.
I could tell you all that you’re missing by not supporting local culture, by not going to shows by local bands you may have never heard of, by not going to local plays, by not buying locally made art, by listening only to the stuff the radio spoonfeeds you. But why? You don’t care. Life’s too short, and you’re too busy. Plus, just sitting back and letting the TV, radio, and magazines tell you what you should be listening to, watching, and reading is so much easier. There are gossip rags to be pored over and reality-TV shows to be analyzed, after all.
Every year for the past 11, Fort Worth Weekly has been doing its part to help celebrate local culture – music specifically – by putting on our Music Awards, letting readers vote for their favorite local bands in categories ranging from rock to jazz and all points in between, and hosting a concert of select nominees. Why? Because, for us, the effort is the reward. The knowledge that people aren’t just going home, aren’t just watching bad reruns, aren’t just reading crap lets us know that there’s hope, hope that in constantly transcending our comfort zones we can all live more harmoniously together – and be less miserable.
I hope to see you this weekend, Sunday, June 22, for our daylong showcase at five downtown clubs: 8.0 Bar & Café, Bent Lounge, the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Paddy Red’s, and Scat Jazz Lounge. I hope you take time from your busy schedule to come see several dozen musicians as talented if not more so than what you hear on the radio. I also hope you buy a compilation CD we’ve put together, featuring select nominees’ songs, with proceeds benefiting our charity sponsor, SafeHaven of Tarrant County. Over the past three years, we’ve raised about $10,000 for the shelter for abused women and children. Last year we sold about 500 CDs, and about 5,000 people were at the festival …
… though I’m sure you weren’t one of them, busy as you are watching your life pass you by and all. – Anthony Mariani
As friendly with U2-ish rock as with Strokes-ian punchiness, Titanmoon might be the missing link between hipster and international man of leisure. Calhoun, fronted by singer-songwriter extraordinaire Tim Locke, serves up generous portions of Grade-A angst with a smile. The Burning Hotels: awesomer than The Strokes, The Hives, The Killers, and pretty much every other “The” band you’ve ever heard of. Look for a cleaned-up version of the quartet’s single “Stuck in the Middle” on the soundtrack to the upcoming Walden Media movie Will, in which the band also will make a cameo. Black Tie Dynasty, as capable of eliciting flat-out beauty as getting booties moving, has gone from It-Band to scene veteran in only three short years.
As for Goodwin, we’re simply out of laudatory modifiers to attach to the quartet’s purely rocking handiwork – just go see ‘em for yourself. The four-piece of Aaron Bartz, Darren Miller, Boyd Dixon, and Pat Ferguson is every hipster’s choice for Greatest Band of All Time, but Tame … Tame and Quiet also has a little somethin’-somethin’ for metalheads and shoegazers alike. The cut*off has gone from Pixies-style rockers to quite the multi-dimensional gem in just a couple-a years, blending art-rock, punk, and McCartney-esque choruses into a mélange of singular excellence. Equally hard to categorize are Lifters, a moody quartet in whose collective hands glimmers all manner of rock, alt-country, and genres in between. – A.M.
Chris Hardee’s mysterious prog-rock outfit Alan plays more house parties than actual shows these days. The guy can conjure up an entire orchestra with just his acoustic guitar, though. Marcus Lawyer’s band, Top Secret … Shhh!, is not a band per se as much as an ongoing experiment in music by committee. Lawyer produced Top Secret’s 2006 debut by assembling tracks recorded individually by dozens of local musos. On the Alan-tip but more Mahavishnu-y than poppish, The Underground Railroad hasn’t been playing much, but you can never count out frontman and six-string legend Bill Pohl.
Also on a kind of permanent hiatus is Sleeplab, last year’s top vote-getter for best live band. Ghoultown: Spaghetti Western screamo. ‘Nuff said. Eaton Lake Tonics: indie-acoustic and, in live settings, with audience participation. Glorious. And Pffft! is a sort of extended jam that’s probably going on as we speak, waiting for guitarist Ken Shimamoto and company to pluck it out of the empyrean and place it firmly in our eardrums. On a more techno track are Best Fwends and The Bible Fire; whereas the Fwends lean more toward sonic versions of Warholian pop-art, the Fire digs rock. – C.C.
The 1990s saw a resurgence of redneck rockers, and that scene rages on still, particularly in the Town of Cow. Brad Hines is the old bull among this year’s nominees – well into his 40s, a previous winner, a staple in the Stockyards, and a gentle soul who’s earned his nickname of “The Stockyards Buddha.” His competition gets younger and more eclectic each year.
Maren Morris is a sweet-faced kid with a big, breathy voice and pop-oriented country songs that sound more like Norah Jones than Gretchen Wilson. The young studs in the Joey Green Band are far more rock than redneck. The hard-charging Jordan Mycoskie & the Fire Breathing Fish are more Dylan than Waylon. The Kyle Bennett Band is Southern rock at heart. Guitar hero Stephen Pointer veers between alt-country, rock, and blues and won the 95.9 The Ranch Texas Music Showdown in 2007. And then there’s wild-card Magee Payne, with his New England roots, Willie-like pigtails and headband, and quirky repertoire. – J.Prince
The three guys of The Campaign make performing onstage look like more fun than dancing in your underwear. Darth Vato, the thinking drunk’s band, has just put out its fourth and most polished record, Oh No, We’re Doing Great. High School Assembly, the brainchild of former Yellabelly members Ryan Higgs and Jon Carney, has been playing its intense, introspective songs since 2005. Higgs also plays in Taylor Craig Mills’s project, The Iliads. Frontman and primary songwriter Mills crafts witty and reflective lyrics, and his vocals simply soar.
Holy Moly has been taking its raw, hillbilly-esque, and bourbon-soaked jangling on the road a lot lately. Perennial nominee and frequent winners Pablo and the Hemphill 7 traverse all manner of reggae, rock, and dub, sometimes within the same song, leaving no good booty left unshaken. A Sally Majestic show is always tight and laced with the trio’s wry sense of humor. The smooth, funky, danceable sounds of Villain Vanguard have been loosening inhibitions around the F-Dub for more than three years now. – E.G.
A strong stack here, no doubt, and diverse, too. There’s Pretty Baby, the sound of angry, lightning-fueled, leather-clad pleasurebots making sweet love. And Telegraph Canyon, a septet that hearkens to Depression-Era depression – ancient instruments, dusty vibes, wrist-slitting tension and all. And the Rivercrest Yacht Club, a beat-tastic boys’ club of sophisticated rhymes, rakish but moth-gnawed boaters and polos, and multi-colored samples.
And alt-rockers the Black Bonnets, who are no mas but whose members are still gigging, most in singer-songwriter Kevin Aldridge’s solo project, Chatterton. And then there’s Proud Warrior, a throwback to elegant though non-glossy ’90s rock, and the Frontier Brothers, an Austin-Fort Worth trio that’s as radio-poppy as legitimately indie, and, lastly, the Panther City Bandits, who just want to kick your ass and have a beer with you afterward. – A.M.
Perennial candidate and frequent winner – and real-life gut-tar hero – James Hinkle has just wrapped up a new album, Some Day, with veteran Robert Cadwallader on piano and organ and two super-young upstarts from Louisiana, Jason Marchand and Austin Allen, on bass and drums respectively. Ax-man “Blue” Drue Webber is a young, genuine throwback, offering up modern takes on vintage sounds as respectfully – and tastefully – as possible. A superior showman and six-string slinger, “Handsome” Holland K. Smith, with his devilish grin and silky black hair, is as flashy as he is talented.
In JZ & Dirty Pool, singer-songwriter and guitarist John Zaskoda has surrounded himself with a deadly talented group of musicians, including John Shook on bass, Brandon Wallace on drums, and Andrew Skates on organ. The Red Herrings continue to deliver intelligent and driven blues-grunge, and during live shows, the trio is able to shift seamlessly from straight-ahead blues to rock and blues-rock. Somewhere between Al Green and Stevie Ray Vaughan lies the Josh Weathers Band, whose emotive, energetic namesake can tear off fleet-finger solos as well as strum delicious melodies. Dirt&Earthvibes park their infectious groove train somewhere between Jimmy Hendrix and Barry White. The band just dropped its second album, Messages2Mine. – E.G.
Stella Rose is punch-you-in-the-gut, melodic stoner-grunge transmitted via loud-ass, heavy-ass, syrupy guitar and bass and mercurial stickwork. La Rose hasn’t slowed down and is now recording a new album to be released later this year. Heavy, melodic, and stoneriffic, Jefferson Colby – the trio of bassist Jeff Moore and the brothers Mabe (Danny and Matt) – started out a couple of years ago as a cool diversion but is now pretty freaking serious and deserves to be taken as such.
A little smokier are The Me-Thinks, three of Haltom City’s finest all wrapped up by (or folded into) loud, drivin’-'n’-cryin’ fuzz-rock. Recent major-label signees Sky Eats Airplane buzz and roar like heavy-duty Nine Inch Nails sans pretension, Exit 380 are ladykillin’ smoothies a la The Toadies, and Hall of Famers Spoonfed Tribe – while still tribal at heart – have returned to their slightly funky, slightly hardrockin’ Fishbone-ish roots. – A.M.
Saxophonist Rachella Parks’ Texas-tenor tone represents the best of America’s true art form, birthed by perseverance and being larger than life. Drummer and arranger Adonis Rose came to Fort Worth a couple of years ago from New Orleans post-Katrina, so we can no longer honestly consider him a newcomer. His vision, which he’s applying now piece by piece, is to make Fort Worth a must-stop in the national jazz circuit and help put some local musos to work. As alive and kicking as contemporary and straight-ahead jazz is in town, Big Band gets a handsome treatment by the 20-piece Jazz Monsters, who gig regularly at Embargo in SoDo.
Pianist Daymond Callahan gigs wherever he can and has lent his graceful touch to dozens of local artists’ work. Local pillar of the jazz community and Music Awards Hall of Famer Jhon Khasen has played more live jazz in Fort Worth than anyone else ever has or probably ever will.He’s been holding court almost every night at Sardine’s Ristorante Italiano in the Cultural District for the past 25 years. Lastly, there’s Amistad and Lazzo, two groups that share a Mexican-American heritage but couldn’t be more different: While Amistad contemporarizes trad-Mex styles, Lazzo relies heavily on the accordion and pure Norteño stylings. – C.C.
Most of the nominees here are local in name only, starting with Cadillac Sky, a pop-bluegrass quintet that was signed by Ricky Skaggs’ record label a couple of years ago after the legendary bluegrasser heard the band’s 2007 album, Blind Man Walking. Tommy Alverson has shared stages with Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, and Pat Green, among others, and has his own annual festival (Texas Music Family Gathering). C&W rockers 100 Damned Guns straddle the line between Big Time and local, as comfortable at Fred’s Texas Café as they are in Yankeeland. Same goes for Ginny Mac, a pedal-steel-playin’ cowgirl who has fans all over the globe but who few people may know also holds down a regular gig at a Westside Italian restaurant.
In the same throwback vein are The Quebe Sisters Band (pronounced kway-BEE), who brought their three-fiddle-fueled Western Swing to the SXSW this past spring. Lost Country, helmed by legendary ’60s rocker Jim Colegrove (Great Speckled Bird), is nothing short of prolific, cutting a new album seemingly every six months, even though all of the band members could be (if they aren’t already) AARP members. Kurt South is still pretty young but has been playing long enough to qualify as a veteran, and fellow young-vet Phil Pritchett can pen a tune that’s as ready for radio as anything Nashville can churn out. – A.M.
Now at work on a new album, favorite Dove Hunter has that thing that separates the really good alt-country acts from the ones you might read about in SPIN: simple songs with hooks assembled not only of great melodies but also catchy words. Like Collin Herring, whose new record and nominee for Album of the Year, Past Life Crashing, is a mix of Southern-fried rock and rock-fried balladry, buyoyed by contributions from indie alt-country darling Kathleen Edwards (violin, background vocals). Another new album is on the way, this one from singer-songwriter Clint Niosi, he of quavering, Donovan-ian voice, plummeting and soaring vocal melodies, and gently finger-picked, harmonious acoustic guitar steeled by moments of dissonance. Perennial nominee The Theater Fire is returning to the stage after some time off, bringing its dark, occasionally brassy, always accordion-tastic folk music to Lola’s Saloon on Friday, June 27.
A possible heir to TTF’s alt-country crown, Telegraph Canyon navigates the pre-apocalyptic universe by the light of bright acoustic riffs and to the march of thunderous beats, everything guided by the spirit of frontman Chris Johnson’s ominous, the end-is-near lyrics. The Whiskey Folk Ramblers are dark horses in every sense of the term: capable of usurping TTF’s reign and as charging and melancholy as a, um, homesick black stallion. Not so the Panther City Bandits, whose tuneage isn’t as alt-country as alt-country-influenced – “rowdy as fuck, Dropkick-ish rock” is what they aim for. – A.M.
In Blood of the Sun, blazing guitars, thunderous, Bonham-style skins, and whirling Hammond organs play demolition derby, all to fantastical tales of fourth-dimensional (or 4:20-dimensional) life. Another throwback of sorts is Addnerim, last year’s winner in this category and in Artist of the Year, a trio modeled after a little prog-rock threesome from Toronto called Rush (circa 2112). The dark, depressive, operatic glory of The Great Tyrant is nothing short of dread-inducing. Ex-Yeti bassist Tommy Atkins’ molten four-string, ex-Yeti drummer Jon Teague’s incredible bombast, and frontman Daron Beck’s circus-organ and downright chilly presence coalesce into a vibe that can be described only as harrowing as fuck.
Cut from a similar though slightly brighter cloth is Urizen, a trio whose lyrics scan like one long sci-fi novel and that sets sweeping keys and skittish vox over machine-gun-furious double-kick-bass rumbling. Though Legends of the South’s name reeks of swampy blooze and coffin parades, the Granbury guys conjure up Skynyrd on meth. But no one gets hurt, just kicked in the ass. Within Chaos (ne Necrogazm) signed to major indie-record label KOCH about a year ago, which must have pissed WC off – they’re heavier and more brutal than ever. And on the hardcore end of the metallic spectrum are Brickfight, One-Fingered Fist, and Merkin. – J.Press, A.M.
At the tender age of 27, the rap phenom known as 6Two has already worked with hip-hop royalty: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, among others. But there’s nothing “tender” about the street-science he drops over his sinuous digital beats. Similarly, the duo of 8-11 and Ph.D. revel in bass-voiced, testosterone-soaked staccato rhythms that document the territorialism and swaggering sexuality of the lifestyle. Immortal Soldierz aren’t afraid to employ the “n” and “mf” words, but they use their considerable powers for political good, rapping about racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, drugs, the high cost of living for working-class urbanites, and all the other bad stuff that’s endemic to the blue-collar life.
Latino rapper Smoothvega has a chilled-out delivery and a preference for sophisticated wordplay and double entendres. (Check out all the elaborate motor-vehicle metaphors for sex in “Joyride.”) A sense of humor never hurts, and PPT may be the best example of how hip-hop can celebrate life, dish out poignant honesty about death and loss, employ samples and sonic effects ingeniously, and generally get you laughing and shaking your ass at the same time. The uber-Anglo quartet of Rivercrest Yacht Club are the natural heirs to the Beastie Boys, exhibiting authenticity in their command of the hip-hop vernacular while using their soundscapes as a pop-culture confetti gun, scattering clever references in every direction.
The unpredictable hip-hop artist known as Versatile (“Verse” to his friends) tackles possibly the widest variety of subject matter: He’ll celebrate the prurient joys of, um, female pulchitrude (“Touch Something”), then turn around and deliver a calm but confident ode to Martin Luther King Jr. (“Dream”). Last but by no means least, Fort Worth’s R&B crooner par excellence Keite Young has nailed the Al Green-Sam Cooke method of exploring sexuality and spirituality simultaneously, implying that, when sung about with intelligence and subtlety, those two hot topics needn’t be viewed as polar opposites. – J.F.
Ex-metalhead Darrin Kobetich leads his Blackland River Devils through the Bad(-ass)lands of old-timey music and bluegrass. Guitarist-singer Russ Walton relies more on ambient noise than quick licks. You could probably call his scary, midnight inventions folk music of the future. PrinceRodriguez consists of co-singer-songwriters Jeff Prince and longtime friend and bandmate Phillip Rodriguez, whose border-fusion bilingual creations are modern and classic C&W at the same time. James Michael Taylor has been performing and recording for decades.
He also releases a full-length album seemingly every other month. Solo, singer-songwriter and guitarist Daniel Katsük breathes a little deeper and is a little calmer, allowing his music’s true tribal nature to come shining through. With the guys from Sally Majestic, also known as his band, Katsük jumps, jives, and wails. And as Bosque Brown, sole singer-songwriter Mara Lee Miller has a distinctive, slightly off-key cry that might not work on commercial radio but is right at home on the fringes. – C.C.
The spin doctors nominated are critical in your continuing effort to keep your hot date too distracted by beats and melodies to notice your “dancing.” Esoterica Salon/Lounge is an unlikely albeit great space for weekend smilin’ and profilin’, and DJ FNKY1, a former martial arts instructor, is one reason why.
Another is DJ Riot, whose hypnotic grooves tend to keep the Esoterica party going ’til the break-a-break-a. However, the relatively new and swanky clubs downtown – Aqua Lounge, Bar 9, Bent, and others – are where Fort Worth’s DJ culture blooms and where some of the nominees, especially DJs Soul and Sexy9, regularly hold court. Gigging all over North Texas are two purveyors of the hip-hop gospel, DJs Buddah and Wildhair. – E.G.
Ah, the cover/tribute band: the vehicle through which the workaday music lover can experience “Stairway to Heaven” in a live setting without having to shell out a hundred-plus bucks. The cover/tribute band also is the vehicle through which the workaday musician can live out his rock ‘n’ roll fantasies – just ask any 14-year-old who owns both a Strat and a Green Day t-shirt. But it takes a certain focus, talent, and panache to really make a name for yourself as an interpreter of the pop canon. In Fort Worth, we’ve got at least five acts that exhibit those qualities in spades, starting with Prophets of Rage, who throw down note-for-note facsimiles of Rage Against the Machine tunes, spreading fury faster than a Molotov cocktail from the right hand of Nolan Ryan.
Poo Live Crew serves up always funny and always tight but not always-faithful renditions of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) ’80s hits. Stoogeaphilia, including members of The Me-Thinks, Pffft!, The Great Tyrant, and Pablo and the Hemphill 7, faithfully grind out all of Iggy and boys’ greatest “hits” in a sweaty, booze-induced trance. Speaking of booze – specifically, Night Train wine – you gotta love Child O’ Mine, Hurst’s (and perhaps the entire Southwest’s) finest Guns ‘N Roses-honoring outfit. Perhaps the most “tributey” of all the nominees here, the Child O’ Mine boys play their roles to the hilt: The lead guitarist looks like Slash, the Duff looks like Duff, and the Axl Rose, referred to here as Assl Pose (brilliant), willingly dons the most ridiculous getups Axl ever thought were cool. You try playing in a fur coat – that’s devotion, my friends.
Finally, there’s Velvet Love Box. Sure, their list of covers is longer than the “Smith” section in the phone book, but what sets this trio apart from your uncle and his buddies noodling on “Mustang Sally” or, heaven help us, “Brown Eyed Girl” at a sports bar is this: VLB’s covers are A.) all-acoustic, B.) performed live with puppets, and C.) feature spot-on harmonies and superior musicianship. – S.S.
With his billy-goat goatee and devilish grin, Lee Allen is the Swiss Army knife of local musicians. He has played in almost every band in town, hosts the Wednesday jams at Lola’s Saloon off West 7th Street, runs sound wherever, stage manages, and teaches up-and-coming rockers how to roll at his Rock and Roll Camp. Allen’s fellow sensei also is a nominee, camp co-founder Dave Karnes. In addition to playing in the electro-pop outfit Pretty Baby, he hosts the Sunday night jazz jam at Lola’s, among 9 million other scene-related things. Marcus Lawyer may be in, technically, only one band (Top Secret … Shhh!), but when it comes to the degrees of separation between him and just about every North Texas muso, the proverbial six is three or four degrees too many.
Drummer Adonis Rose, visiting artist in residence at the University of Texas-Arlington, recently laid down beats for Spike Lee’s new HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke. Bart Rose (no relation to Adonis) owns and operates Fort Worth Sound and has done production and engineering work for hundreds of North Texas bands, including some of the Fort’s finest such as Oliver Future, The February Chorus, Chatterton, and Darth Vato. Andre Edmondson, a.k.a. Dre, remains the unquestioned master of live sound here in the Fort. Formerly of the dearly departed Wreck Room, Dre now twiddles the knobs at Lola’s, Embargo, Thursday Night Live at Central Market, and wherever else musicians need a hero. Bassist Matt Hembree may be the laziest no-account on the list, producing bands at his home studio and playing in only 17 local groups, including Bindle, Drunken Monkey, Goodwin, Pablo and the Hemphill 7, Pffft!, Stoogephilia, Underground Railroad, and a new Police tribute band. What a layabout. – E.G.
A voice is great, but without excellent tunes, it might as well be auto-tuned and airbrushed. Fortunately, this year’s nominees have the songcraft to back up their pipes, running the gamut from thought-provoking acoustic daydreams to electro-industrial vamps. April Geesbreght manages to combine the youthful earnestness of warm balladry with the sweat of arena rocking. How many times have you seen an Indigo Girl (but much sexier) on her knees, bashing the strings of her acoustic ax with the gleeful fury of Pete Townshend? Never? That’s because you haven’t seen April.
Beth Wood has graced stages big and small all over creation, purveying her brand of spiritual blues-ality borne on a lilting, soulful voice with rootsy tendencies. Like a sweeter Sheryl Crow, Wood crafts tuneage that’s as honest as it is fun. Elizabeth Wills’ dolefully tender voice is reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan’s, but her songs have a personal quality that transcends Starbucks-ish cliché. Though she can’t yet legally drink, Maren Morris can pen a country-influenced tune that’s way beyond her years. Her voice has a uniquely encouraging quality to it, and it carries enough emotional heft to bring a tear to your bloodshot eyes. Zayra is more than a reality-TV show footnote. Much more. Like a super-hero created from the DNA of Duran Duran, a supermodel, and a cobra, Zayra has a poisoned-stiletto delivery that slinks, stalks, and stabs over the sexy electronic beats and hypnotic synth grooves of her techno-outfit, Pretty Baby. – S.S.
Daniel Katsük can go as falsetto-high as some of his fans no doubt are this very minute and also rant about current events. First-time nominee Matt Mooty (The Burning Hotels) shares vocal duties with co-songwriter and guitarist Chance Morgan, and while the latter deserves props, the former was singled out by our nominating committee for his uncontestably radio-ready, booming, smooth tenor. Black Tie Dynasty frontman Cory Watson is the best of Robert Smith and Morrissey, which suits his band’s new-wave tuneage just fine.
Perennial nominee Carey Wolff’s voice may not be as gravelly as it used to be, but it’s no less appropriate for his songs about lives in permanent crisis. Final nominee Keite Young isn’t the only soulful crooner in town, but he’s the only soulster nominated, which may help put him over the top. That, and the fact that his voice is as light and sweet as iced tea blended personally by Rev. Al Green. – J.L. w/A.M.
It ain’t just the words that matter to these folks – the sonic textures are just as integral. Perennial favorites (or elder statesmen, if you prefer) Tim Locke (Calhoun) and Colin Herring both put out new records this year, and both discs wring rusty heartbreak from gorgeous melodies and shimmering layers of rock. In contrast to Locke’s jaded epics and Herring’s whiskey-throated ruminations is the ever-evolving Daniel Katsük.
Now backed by the boys from Sally Majestic and performing as KatsüK, the earthy neo-hippie surrounds his alternately angry and introspective poetry with swirling tribal psychedelia and mountain-man acoustic jams, blending aural and verbal imagery into a poignant mental gestalt. Titanmoon’s team of Tyler Casey and Nathan Schneidewent tread the depths of mortality and shattered love. If Keite Young’s silken falsetto can’t get you laid, we don’t know what will. And if his tighter-than-the-insides-of-a-Rolex funk can’t get you dancing, your legs might be broken. – S.S.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Telegraph Canyon’s densely layered All the Good News is rife with spiritual doubt and instrumental variety. There’s Chris Johnson’s delicate, urgent acoustic guitar and banjo, high-lonesome harmonica, and agitated, haunting voice, plus Tamara Cauble’s violin and the mononymic Sherilyn’s synth splashes. Despite all the Southern Gothic grandeur, however, this septet manages impressive interludes of rocking out. On Big Fire, self-identified folk-rocker April Geesbreght leaves behind coffeehouse strumming-and-cooing for a big sound by a big (as in “full”) band. A rumbling of electric guitars – played behind the mix as ominous thunderclouds or in the foreground as fiery leads – accentuates Geesbreght’s faster, more soulful kick. Using heavy doses of humor does not make you “Weird” Al Yankovic, as the self-proclaimed purveyors of “melodramatic melody,” PPT, prove on Denglish.
In arch Anglophilic accents, the three wry rappers drop lines about how great it is to use words like “indubitably,” recommend ordering a cup of hot tea with your chicken and biscuits, and testify to the painful pleasures of loving a down-on-her-luck lady, all delivered against a background of gritty beats, happy-funky bleeps of synth, electric bass riffage, and singalong choruses. Last of the Great Mississippi Bluesmen – Live in Dallas won a Grammy Award earlier this year, so why shouldn’t it aspire to kudos from the Weekly? The Blue Shoe Project – Colleyville’s father-son team of Jeffry and Michael Dyson – recorded this CD at a 2004 show at Dallas’ Majestic Theatre. “Pinetop” Perkins, “Honeyboy” Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Henry James Townsend perform sublime expositions of songs like “King Biscuit Time” and “Sweet Home Chicago” via slide guitar, piano, and harmonies. There are some supernatural influences in the blue-eyed soul of Daniel Katsük’s earnest boy-band note-bends. He sounds like a teenage James Taylor transformed into a world-traveler. Out in the Wind showcases Katsük’s wall-of-sound approach to pop songs embroiled in “world music” beats and woodwinds: Trancey, Asian- and African-flavored flutes and hand-percussion riddims mix with some spot-on bitching about the Bush administration’s atrocious foreign policy.
The Weekly has never been at a loss for hosannas to lob in Collin Herring’s direction. But the last three years have been difficult on the alt-country singer-songwriter. Troubles abounded, with addiction, romantic breakups, and unexpected stops and starts while recording his new album, Past Life Crashing. The beauty of the record is the tension between its darkly confessional, even despairing lyrics and the ringing, rising tides of guitars and keyboards. That ultra-white hip-hop trio the Rivercrest Yacht Club pounds out delirious rhymes over booming beats and epic synth washes on its eponymous debut. Amid the convincing rap bluster, dramatic samples, and sonic references, there’s a brilliant satire of hip-hop braggadocio so razor-thin that either the Yacht-ers don’t know they’re doing it, or we’re making it up. Rhymes about Thunderbird wine, cockfights, and strippers mingle with mad science about Murder, She Wrote, macrobiotic tofu, and Mr. Bubble.
PlayRadioPlay!, a.k.a. maestro/nerd and Aledo boy Dan Hunter, is perhaps the most outré nominee here. On his recent, major-label debut Texas, he transforms softcore-electronica noodlings into the wanderlust that makes for the best Lone Star music. The songs are full of beautiful hunt-and-peck keyboard notes and submerged percussion. Imagine Steve Earle with polish, Whiskeytown as birthed on the CBGB stage, or Tom Petty with a rawer, more honkytonkin’ groove – that’s the Joey Green Band on Vinyl Destination, a collection of anthemic sagas about speeding to Reno with gambling money, devilish heartbreakers in faded blue jeans, and searching out a roadhouse pickup to avoid another damned lonely night. It’s all delivered with hard-driving purpose and a full heart, both aimed at discovering old territory as if it were a new frontier.
Mount Righteous describes itself as a “Texas suburban” ensemble. On their debut album, When the Music Starts, the 11 young singer-musicians come off sort of like the Polyphonic Spree but with a fascination for taking apart and reassembling all kinds of disparate elements from a long list of musical detritus: ancient seafaring tunes, Irish drinking songs, ’70s bubblegum-FM pop, circus instrumentals, and hand-clapping, New York street-corner doo-wop. The result is like a super-tight high school choir on a joyously precocious tour through the loose ends of novelty music new and old. – J.F.
ROCK ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Frontman Chris Plavidal’s outfit, Stumptone, is as willing to escort the listener into the twinkling ether as set him or her a-trembling. Gravity Suddenly Released, the quartet’s new album and return to full-time gigging, goes from Floyd to The Band seamlessly and sometimes within the same song. Calhoun’s Falter.Waver.Cultivate is the band’s first as a band-band, according to frontman Tim Locke, who previously pursued the project mainly as a vehicle for his songs. At turns spacey, bombastic, and quiet, Falter.Waver.Cultivate seems to unfold as it spins on the hi-fi. Almost as indefinable and singular is the cut*off’s masterful Packed up for Beginners.
Produced by Salim Nourallah (Old 97′s, The Deathray Davies), all 11 songs here are as accessible and unique as they are full-bodied and packed with subtleties. The rock is broughten on Goodwin II, about a half-hour’s worth of blistering, hyper-melodicism that comes and goes about as quickly as a solid right-cross to the chin. The final two nominees – Jefferson Colby’s EP, My Cosmic Self, and Spoonfed Tribe’s Public Service Announcement – defer to muscularity over subtlety. JC cranks up the reverb and drops Atomic-Elbows on the rhythms, while Spoonfed spazzes out across a trippy tableau of metallic funk. – A.M.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Every good song has at least one hook, a vocal or instrumental hypnotic trick that keeps you listening. In the case of Lifters’ “Alibi,” it’s a shimmy-inducing rhythm-guitar line that dares you to keep your butt still. Between the verses, the riff transforms into a hard, honking, and Replacements-worthy lead that still grooves. The art of “Alibi” is in its timing, in how the musicians know when to start and stop particular guitar parts while vocalist Peter Black intones and wails about his fear of real love. Featured last month on an episode of the CW television show One Tree Hill, PlayRadioPlay!’s single “Elephants as Big as Whales” is a persuasively sweet and deceptively simple song about the nonsensical bottom line of loneliness. The Josh Weathers Band’s “Jenny O” offers plenty of regrets and fearful predictions for the ex-girlfriend in the title, who seems to be wavering between disillusion and madness. The melodrama is grounded in a melancholy, mid-tempo blues excursion by frontman Weathers with his able band. He reminds us of how a 1970s-era Elton John could carry listeners through a narrative lesson in artsy heartbreak by the sheer power of his phrasings.
Formerly a shy folkie, April Geesbreght comes on like a full-throated Annie Lennox in the sly romp “My Mistake.” The tune opens with a slow squall of electric guitar, like a roiling thunderhead. Soon, we’re overtaken by Geesbreght’s rhythmically tight, multi-tracked delivery of a chorus that rises and falls like the EKG of a guilty heart. “Throwing punches in the night air” is an elegant-clumsy metaphor for the feeling many people have when they can’t lift themselves out of an emotional hole. And so Collin Herring’s woeful ballad “Punches” hangs on that line and just keeps burying the listener in it, courtesy of Herring and his harmony-singer, Kathleen Edwards, who also lends a painfully earnest violin. Precise and searing but ultimately cathartic stuff. Speaking of pain and catharsis, the normally riotous rap-R&B trio PPT takes a subtle turn with “To Me Mum,” a track that hews proudly to the comfort-soul tradition of a ’70s classic like “O-o-h Child.” Guest artist Aisha’s beautiful jazzy flute flutters around this gently paced hip-hop tribute to Frances Dorcas Lawson, the mother of and primary inspiration for PPT’s Tahiti. She died early this year after complications from multiple strokes.
Finally, there’s no love lost in the serious dance-floor alert that is “Violent Man,” Pretty Baby’s post-feminist thrill ride that features lead singer Zayra sneering and snarling her way through her trio’s ode to 1980s synth-pop pioneers like Yazoo and Depeche Mode. Zayra, who can easily carry her own tune, assumes the threatening title role, telling us that she, indeed, is the violent man in question. Which is fine. Just don’t hurt us. – J.F.
ROCK SONG OF THE YEAR
Though arguably not a rock song – it’s more of a slow-churning MTV-ish ditty – the cut*off’s “Big House” couldn’t be any catchier, with a hand-clapping chorus and singalong verses. Frontman Kyle Barnhill’s delivery is simply delicious. He puts on just the right amount of condescension to underline the dark truths beneath the lyrics: “Wanna drive in a big car,” he sings. “Where we go the people know who we are / Sell my soul to live the life of a star / In a big house.” Snappier though no less ax-grinding, Calhoun’s “Breathe” is a full serving of dancey, Split Endz-y pop-rock laced with arsenic. Driven by drummer Mike Ratliff’s inventive, rumbling, semi-tribal beats, the song, while toe-tapping, allows for briefly glimpsed vistas of twinkling guitar that reject the gloss – and go down like crystal nails. The rest of the nominees shelve the irony and go right for the jugular.
Effortlessly blending soft hand-percussion beats with a simple, short, repeated piano riff and shimmering, echo-laden six-string, Titanmoon’s “Morocco” is a heart-wrenching, lighter-waving plea for a lover to “wake up, wake up, for cryin’ out loud.” The single from the band helmed by co-songwriters Tyler Casey and Nathan Schneidewent anchors an entire album of crispy, shiny pop-rock grandeur. Goodwin is equally perplexed, romantically, on “Grace,” in which frontman Tony Diaz informs the guilty party, over bombastic rhythms and in-your-face riffage, “I’ve waited up for you / To never hear from you / I had it all worked out in my head.” All for naught. The title track to Stumptone’s lustrous and nigh-indefinable Gravity Suddenly Released comes on like a lullaby, with frontman Chris Plavidal’s high-lonesome acoustic strumming waltzing gently with a plaintive pedal-steel, the rhythm punched up every bar by the rather ominous thump of a bass drum – boom.
His voice echoing as if he’s calling from a cheap pay phone in some distant dimension, Plavidal sings, calmly and soothingly, “As you went to leave / Gravity suddenly increased / Tugging at your skin and bones and soul.” A moaning harmonica comforts him throughout the second strophe: “Lights went from red to green / And gravity suddenly released / Sending you head over heels over head over heels over head over … .” A loud, ringing guitar as spacious as an empty desert road joins the dance, lifting the song – and the listener – into space-rock. The rest is simply a freefall skyward. No lyrics. Just crisp and roaring wind on skin. And to think: The song is only a sample of the floating reverie that is the whole album. – A.M.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
One of the most prolific musos on the scene, singer-songwriter Tim Locke could perform an acoustic medley of TV preDELETEion-drug commercial themes and we’d give him a standing ovation. His latest and most enduring outfit, Calhoun, has proven an excellent vehicle for developing and delivering his preternatural gifts for beautiful melodies and sweet, sad, soaring musical moods. It’s no surprise that Green River Ordinance has attracted a national following and a deal with Capitol/Virgin Music – their music is energetic, thoughtful, sing-along-able, and as effortlessly appealing as the GRO boys are themselves.
Having recently released their second CD, Goodwin proved its debut was no fluke. This guitar-driven quartet full of thrashing beats and dramatic, desperate vocals manage the neat trick of being both unapologetically noisy and curiously majestic at the same time. Daniel Katsük and his bandmates, with their mesmerizing brand of meta-pop, come close to proving that Fort Worth is the capital city of Planet Earth. Their unique blend of Middle Eastern and African rhythms, serpentine and hypnotic ethnic flutes, folk-music sincerity and funky bass does more to teach the world to sing than a million well intentioned but stale “multicultural” celebrations. There’s somebody else who turns stereotypes of Lone Star music on their ear. Dan Hunter, a.k.a. PlayRadioPlay!, is every bit as Texas-proud as a country icon like Willie Nelson.
Hunter’s musical sensibilities may be firmly rooted in the best that glittering Euro-trash electro-pop can offer, but he’s still got that generosity, appreciation for eccentricity, and “high-lonesome” heart that reflects Cowtown at its most flattering angle. Speaking of studio wonks, the thirtysomething members of Stumptone have taken “perfectionism” to new heights: A decade lapsed between the release of their first and second albums. You can really hear all their tweaking, refining, and methodical layering of ambient sound samples, cosmic, squalling guitars and jazzy trumpet on the entrancing new CD/LP Gravity Suddenly Released and in their proudly ear-splitting live shows. – J.F.
Sundance Square continues to be the thriving downtown scene that Dallas has never learned from, and the 8.0 Bar & Café offers a unique and welcome dichotomy: It seems relaxed, even during typically crowded weekends. Out by Texas Christian University, the Aardvark has been in the biz for over a decade and just keeps getting better. The serenely lit stage has been trodden by legendary bands local and non-, including Flickerstick, Bowling for Soup, Son Volt, Pat Green, Centro-matic, The Gourds, and hundreds more. Right down the street from the ‘Vark is another gem, The Moon Bar, which is not as storied as its elder or as spacious but more than makes up for such deficiencies by offering a dimly lit, comfy space populated mainly by hipsters and TCU-ers and welcoming bands large and small, including Oliver Future, Darth Vato, The Burning Hotels, and more. Now you may think that Arts Fifth Avenue, a nonprofit organization located in the historic Fairmount District, is some kind of performance museum. Far from it.
The rich acoustics of the place provide for killer-smoove performances of traditional and experimental jazz and world music. As much as any club now, Lola’s Saloon erases stylistic differences by celebrating the scene’s eclecticism. In a typical month, you can catch Black Tie Dynasty, Calhoun, The Burning Hotels, Doug Burr, Data Discoteque (a.k.a. MC Router), and practically any other critical fave who has been regularly gushed over here in your favorite weekly. The historic Ridglea Theater is a perfect example of how the old can be resurrected into the vital, indispensable new.
Located in the basement of the old Woolworth building, Scat Jazz Lounge presents a dressed-down and calm but sophisticated urban atmosphere where the focus is exclusively on the stylings of that uniquely American musical form. The venerable White Elephant Saloon in the Stockyards is its same ol’ wood-trimmed, reliable self, which includes incredible sight lines from one end of the joint to the other – you can’t drop a tear in your beer here without everyone seeing. – J.F.
HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2008
Most guitarists can only dream of drawing the fat tones that John Nitzinger effortlessly teases out of his ax. Nitz, in all fairness, has had a lot of practice. As a member of The Barons during Fort Worth’s teen-scene days, he rocked the clubs along Jacksboro Highway – though he wasn’t even old enough to drive a car legally. In the ’70s, he penned a gold album with his band Bloodrock and was invited to start projects with Alice Cooper and Carl Palmer. Having recently triumphed over alcoholism, a stroke, and cancer, Nitz is still writing and performing, and his last album, 2008′s Kiss of the Mudman, is a testament to his indomitable spirit. – Caroline Collier
Another guitarist who grew up playing the Jacksboro clubs is Buddy Whittington, who was hired in 1991 by one of his childhood idols, legendary rock-blues great John Mayall, after Whittington’s band opened for – and apparently blew away – the elder’s Bluesbreakers. Whittington, who is working on a solo record, lives comfortably with his family in that international blues mecca of Hurst. Now that’s a homeboy for ya. – Anthony Mariani
Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Red Young started out touring with trumpeter Clyde McCoy, whose band alternated sets with The Supremes at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City and once performed on Late Night with Johnny Carson. Years later, Young became a gun-for-hire at Huey Meaux’s legendary Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, working on albums by Freddy Fender, Kinky Friedman, Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, and others. Young also backed up Sonny and Cher, Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, and Eric Burdon, and, in 1983, became part of Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle’s tour. Red and the Red Hots, a section of the show, has been Young’s main project ever since. He’s also done work with Juice Newton, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and fellow Fort Worthians Stephen Bruton and Johnny Reno and can be heard on the soundtrack to the 1996 cult-classic Swingers. Young now lives in Austin, but you still might be able to catch him at his regular local haunt, Scat Jazz Lounge. – A.M.